12 Days To Christmas, Losing and Finding Catholicism

Sarah really through down the gauntlet- day two is about religion. You can read her post here.

My upbringing was nearly identical to my sister. My mother was raised Episcopalian, my father Catholic. My father’s side of the family is very Catholic, he attended Catholic schools all the way until his graduate education at Michigan, so we were all raised Catholic. Up to the last couple years of high school after my confirmation, we attended mass every Sunday and I was expected to be wearing slacks, a collared shirt, and nice shoes.

As my sister mentioned, this is not something commonly talked about in our house, unlike my sister, I never really “lost” my faith, but I did drift. The fact my sister wasn’t ever really aware that I effectively stopped practicing for almost four years is a product of the fact that we never really talked about it. I stopped really going to mass my senior year of high school. I attended some Baptist and Protestant services just to see what they were like. Despite attending a Catholic University, I only started attending mass again last spring. I went to confession for the first time in six years before Easter in the spring. Due to some things going on in my personal life, as of writing this, it has been several months since I’ve received communion, as I don’t feel I’m in an appropriate spiritual state.

What I mean when I say I never “lost” my faith is that I never openly denounced it in my words, but I effectively did that in my actions. I for several years took after the vain of the preverbal American “Cultural Catholic” where if someone asked me, I would say I’m Catholic, I knew all the words to say, when to stand and when to kneel, etc. I, however, stopped really believing or practicing my faith in any meaningful way. In short- I was what atheists hate about religious types. I didn’t practice the hard parts of my religion in my personal life, but I still adhered to the wider political tenants of the Church in my voting preferences.

So I guess this brings me around to what brought me back? Well like most things in life, it was a combination of factors. I effectively hit my personal rock bottom last spring. I had become unmoored from any serious purpose in my life. I’d fallen into a set of vices that I realized would never provide for any real happiness. A couple things happened in my personal and family life that had a serious impact on me. Put all this together, and I found myself in my campus’ chapel because I was at my wit’s end and did not know where else to go. I started going to mass every week again. I went to confession for the first time in years. I felt after confession as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

Even after getting back home for summer, I continued going to mass on Sundays, which isn’t something I’d done in my hometown for a long time. My renewed faith began to shape my interactions with people in a positive way. I tried, and still try, to live out the difficult parts of my faith every day. It sounds cliché, but I still trip and fall a lot, but I do try, and I’m getting better.

So why didn’t I follow the same path as my sister, why’d I stay in the Church at all? I think, after some reflection, there are two main veins to that, and one is a product of the other. First, I think the Church is right. The execution has been imperfect throughout history as Dawkins fans will be quick to tell you, but the underlying philosophy is right. The more I studied the Church and its teachings (thanks, Catholic School), the more right I thought the Catholic worldview is.

However, religion has to exist on some plane outside of just sober intellectual analysis, and that’s the second part. I’ve done and tried a lot of things in my time on this earth and found them profoundly unfulfilling if not damaging to my psyche. You can only own so much stuff, get drunk on so many weekends, “hook up” so many times, wake up so many mornings feeling empty and alone before you start wondering if you’ll ever be happy. Popular (secular) culture, especially the bit of it targeted towards college students, tells me that these things will make me happy, which they never have. I thought for a while that maybe there was something wrong with me because of that.

Realizing that these things were nothing but cheap, temporary, substitutes, for real relationships with real people, for a relationship with God, was one of the most profound realizations of my college career. I feel, on a very deep level, that the life the Church guides us to is the one I should be living.

Having come back into the fold, one of the larger regrets I have is having failed my siblings. They picked me as their confirmation sponsors, and I abdicated my responsibility to help them develop spiritually, even though until recently I was honestly in no position to. I needed to sort myself out first, and I hope that now, standing on the more solid ground, I’ll be able to be the guide for them that I wasn’t for the last few years.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Chesterton quotes, who had no small part in my intellectual development visa-vis the Church;

Children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.- GK Chesterton

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